Saturday, January 29, 2011

Comfort Food? Not So Much...

The latest season of The Biggest Loser is well underway, and we've been watching it every week.  This Tuesday the contestants faced a truly diabolical temptation; two at a time, they were shut for several minutes into a room lined floor to ceiling with their favorite foods.

The foods fell into two general categories: overloaded with sugar (chocolate cake, monkey bread) or overloaded with fat (fried chicken, monster cheeseburgers, pizza, ribs).  Interestingly, some of the dieters said they had previously found these foods irresistible, but after several weeks away from them, found their sight and smell repulsive.  This confirms some of the information found in a book that everyone concerned about nutrition should read -  The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by  David Kessler, M.D., former head of the Food and Drug Administration.  I mentioned it briefly in an earlier post, but I'd like to give it a longer plug now.

Barry and I found out about the book late in 2009 when we saw an interview with Dr. Kessler on PBS in which he discussed his own past problems with eating and the addictive qualities of fat, sugar, and salt.  Intrigued, we read The End of Overeating and were appalled by the extent to which our natural appetites have apparently been subverted by the food industry in this country.  Barry in particular has a strong dislike of being manipulated, and The End of Overeating clearly demonstrates that those who process the things we eat have manipulated our taste buds at least as thoroughly as their advertising agencies have managed our expectations of food.

The bad news: some foods containing high levels of sugar, fat and salt hit the pleasure center of the brain so hard that they override the body's natural feeling of satiation and we continue eating them long past the point at which we should feel full.  The good news: as with any addictive substances, we can "kick the habit" with healthier food choices.  Except for a few lapses over the holiday season, Barry and I have been doing just that for the last year, and for the most part we are no longer tempted by foods that are dripping grease or coated with sugar.

Except...I don't know whether I could have turned away from all the plates of macaroni and cheese in The Biggest Loser's temptation.  That alone is enough to make me believe that Dr. Kessler is correct about the addictive qualities of fat.

"Kessler identifies the cues that lead to overeating and offers some simple, practical tools to help control one's impulses." ~Booklist

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